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Block party raises funds

MANATEE — Until Sunday, Christmas could have been disappointing for Ami Hendrickson’s four young children.

The single mother, who attends Keiser University full-time, said she could not afford to buy presents this year.

“The way the economy is it’s been hard,” said Hendrickson, of 19th Street West in Gregory Estates.

But all that changed Sunday afternoon when the Hendricksons stopped by their neighborhood Christmas block party at 36th Avenue West and 16th Street West.

There, her children, Justin, 12; Josh, 11; Rodo, 2; and Lexi, 1, each opened a gift given from the heart.

“It’s to give these kids a Christmas,” said Gregory Estates Community Coalition and Crime Watch President Tania Tomas, who planned a gift exchange during the soiree.

During the past few weeks, she and other volunteers went door to door and registered 225 neighborhood children for a gift exchange.

Tomas said many families in the mid-to-low-income neighborhood are facing foreclosure, and struggles with everyday expenses have threatened their chance to partake in the holiday season.

Participating children received presents including pre-paid cell phones, stuffed animals and perfume donated by local businesses and churches.

In addition to gift-giving, the party included an auction and raffle in an effort to raise money to build a playground there.

“They have nowhere to play,” Tomas said.

During the party, Josh Hendrickson appeared to be looking for someone as he stood by his brother on 36th Avenue West.

“I came to see Santa,” he said as he smiled and displayed a mouth full of braces, adorned with green and red brackets.

His wish was granted when the jolly man in a red suit stopped by the party to listen to the children’s Christmas wishes.

While Santa greeted some of them, others ran around holding cotton candy and snow cones.

A few others who had already filled their bellies with hot dogs, smiled as they had their faces painted.

During the auction participants bid on items including an XBOX 360, a $500 karaoke party and autographed sports memorabilia.

Presents and auctioned items were donated by sponsors including Aaron’s, Auctions Unlimited, Choir Bridge Church, Bethal Baptist, Summerfield Assisted Living and area neighbors and their friends.

Kevin Furlong, manager of Aaron’s on Cortez Road, said his company donated the XBOX for the auction and money toward the playground.

“It’s to contribute to the community,” Furlong said.

“We supply a lot of local families with rentals and understand some of them can’t afford Christmas (gifts) because of the economy.”

Hendricks said she is grateful for the gifts.

“It’s the only gift they’ll get,” she said looking down at her children.

Katelyn Thomas, 24, also of 19th Street West, said her 17-month-old son David, also won’t get much this year.

“It’s a great thing they’re doing here,” Thomas said as she stood beside David’s stroller. “This will help.”

Former Gregory Estates resident Kathy Shaulis, 38, attended the party because her children still live in the neighborhood.

“This is a really good thing for the neighborhood, plus it’s for a playground,” she said smiling.

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